The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Compost pile volunteers

Butternut on compost pileThis butternut seedling is growing on the compost pile...along with a few dozen of his brothers and cousins.  Whenever I walk by, I can't help but think about the anthropological hypothesis that agriculture may have begun when seeds like this sprouted out of early man's midden heaps.

If you pay attention, you'll notice that some vegetables can put up with compost piles while others can't.  At first, compost life sounds like living on easy street, but the conditions are actually a bit rough.  Sure, there's plenty of extra fertility, but my volunteer butternuts have had to put up with undiluted urine baths a couple of times a week, with lots of high carbon materials to grow around, and with shifting soil as the compost pile settles.  Despite these potential problems, volunteer tomatoes and squashes seem to prefer the compost heap to the garden.

When you create a kill mulch and plant into it right away rather than letting the no-till garden mellow for a season before planting, you're growing in soil a lot like your compost pile.  That's why I save crops that make good compost pile volunteers for our new no-till beds each summer, and give less hearty garden crops the older beds.  Now I just have to decide whether to let thirty butternut plants sprawl out across the forest pasture or to turn the compost pile and crush these volunteers.

For more information on the whys and hows of no-till gardening, check out our 99 cent ebook.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I transplanted my compost volunteers, along with the compost they were growing in (it's still pretty fresh) into a bed where I've laid down cardboard for sheet mulching but never had the materials to finish it. Now I am just going to let everything rot/grow and see how it turns out. Hopefully it will be a nice bed to start with some less-tolerant plants next year. So far so good.
Comment by Sara McDonald Tue May 17 12:37:28 2011
I meant to have a spot like that, but the rain came back before we got our newest truckload of manure and cardboard in...
Comment by anna Tue May 17 15:51:26 2011
I had some cucumbers volunteer in the compost pile a couple years ago. I considered letting them go, but alas, the pile is in a shady spot.
Comment by Emily Wed May 18 08:50:43 2011
Sounds like you should transplant them! (Although, a lot of cucumbers are hybrids, so I probably wouldn't bother unless I knew that the seeds were from heirlooms I'd been growing.)
Comment by anna Wed May 18 17:30:29 2011
I would love to be able to transplant any and all volunteers that come up anywhere in my yard, but if you saw what postage stamp-sized backyard we currently have to garden in, you would understand why I don't. ;)
Comment by Emily Fri May 20 08:53:37 2011
Oh, right, space issues! :-) That's something we definitely don't have to deal with. The problem here is how to hold back from planting all 58 acres and wearing our fingers to the bone.
Comment by anna Fri May 20 16:37:36 2011

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